We all love a bargain nowadays and the offer of a well-priced 2-for-1 sales pitch is always a winning combination. For those attending a recent KaskWhisky tasting organised by Justine and held at the Hill Street Design House, the support act and essentially cheap-as-chips component was the bonus presence of the artist formerly known as Whisky Rover.
It was an interesting introduction as until Justine mentioned it, I realised that there was no longer a persona camouflage. For many years that’s been the only name and reputation of the grumpiest git on social media. Again, another Justine quote from the night. There were also some Jura mentions from attendees as well, so I was made to feel at home. We were also streaming live on Instagram for onlookers as far as Australia that had arisen for the kick off at 6am local time, or in darkest Bristol where we were graced by the watchful presence of Dave. Beyond the room audience, comments were coming in online from watchers adding an interesting fun element to the chaotic scenes. Thankfully the event was on the solid foundations of Edinburgh time and prior to kick off, Justine and I had tried to find a pub that wasn’t bursting at the seams for a pre-match drink. Failing miserably we headed to the venue to set up the 6 whiskies and the complex scoring mechanism.
Those fortunate to possess a ticket were faced with the rare sighting of 2 Malt staff members together for an evening of whiskies and auction bargains.
Justine being the professional school teacher and host of many whisky tastings made things look effortless as drams were poured and misinformation given out to onlookers. The premise was simple and topical. Each armed with a budget of £125 – Justine and the Artist formerly known as Whisky Rover – had to purchase 3 bottles at auction and present these to the audience who would then taste and award a score. These were tallied at the end of the 6 whiskies, a winner would be revealed and an unplanned debate followed around value for money.
The premise worked on several fronts. Firstly it brought a bit of fun to the tasting format and invited audience participation. It underlined that auctions are not just for investors, portfolios or flippers. A whisky auction offers the opportunity for expanding your own experiences and knowledge even with a modest budget. The prospect of bottles actually being opened is in today’s climate is admittedly an oddity and we were able to talk about why we purchased each of our selections and the do’s and don’ts of bidding. The competitive feature was just a humorous side-line despite Justine admitting she knew that the artist was well versed in this genre.
We’ll come to the whiskies individually shortly and the reason why we purchased each of them. Justine admitted to a little panic buying when an auction site she was using slowed down to a trickle and winning lots potentially escaped her grasp. It shows just how important it is to plan ahead but how popular auctions have become. Even within during 2017 alone we’ve noticed a significant increase in prices amongst the lower end of the scale bottles we were bidding on. The sum of £125 a couple of years ago would have brought a larger field of candidates. Still, with slightly lower fill levels, damaged packaging and marked labels there are clearly still bargains out there. With auctions growing in frequency, size and scale, bottles will somehow be overlooked or mislabelled. A little research will pay dividends as well as setting a limit and walking away when the price becomes too high.
The Artist formerly known as Whisky Rover was first up on the pulpit with his initial selection. Prior to the event, Justine and I had tasted each of the whiskies to ensure the contents had not been spoiled and pieced together a reasonable order for the evening. First up was my Archer’s blend from the 1970’s, which midway through the explanation led onto the topic of Italian tax seals and it was during this topic that I suddenly realised I had morphed into a whisky geek and paused for a moment in sheer disappointment. Let’s move quickly onto our selections for the evening and overlook that admission.
Archer’s Very Special Old Light Blended Scotch Whisky review
A 1970’s blend from the Glenlivet Distillers Company who owned a handful of distilleries. Produced for McCaffery & Son, which was owned by Italian firm Cinzano. Purchased by Jason for £33 (including fees) assisted by a slightly reduced fill level to the shoulder. This firm were known for producing solid blends with a high malt content and the bottle design is lovely although what does an archer have to do with Scotland or whisky?
Justine: I enjoyed the Archer’s and it was definitely the best one to open the tasting with. Under different circumstances i.e sitting outside on a warm day, I might have given that my winning vote.
A solid opening score of 42 from the crowd who could award 1-5 points for each dram in secrecy before the final tally.
Colour: a light apple juice
On the nose: a fresh arrival with pear drops, mint leaf and sliced green apples. There’s the prompt thrust of white pepper followed by white grapes and a delicate layer of pineapple. A twist of lime and white wine vinegar.
In the mouth: as it says on the label a very light whisky but with a lovely texture that lacks the thinness of todays blends. More of those green apples, a cream vanilla, almonds, porridge oats and a light caramel. Not huge layers of flavour but an easy drinking whisky ideally suited to the Italian market.
Bell’s De-Luxe 12 year old Blended Scotch Whisky review
A 1970’s example from the period when it was the largest selling Scotch in the UK. Justine picked this one up for a palatable £25.10, so while it didn’t score too highly (35) it remained tasty and value for money.
Justine: The Bell’s 12 years was a panic buy! The Just Whisky site had so many visitors bidding during the last 10 minutes that page load speeds were so slow that I was finding it difficult to place bids on my preferences. So a couple of minutes before 8pm, I opted for the Bell’s. I already have an open bottle, dating from 1976-79 (so I’m led to believe from the people at Diageo archives) and as that went down well at a previous tasting so thought it was a safe one.
Colour: a consistent caramel
On the nose: remarkably fresh; vanilla ice cream; lemon meringue; green apple; tiniest hint of peat; fresh pears; like a walk through an orchard.
In the mouth: creamy texture; spicier than anticipated; lemon bonbons; slight dark chocolate; drying into the finish which is relatively short.
Glenleven 12 year old Malt Scotch Whisky review
A vatted malt that turns up at auction on a consistent basis and Justine slightly overpaid for this coming in at £44.27. The lowest scoring whisky of the evening with 32 but decent stuff and can be picked up cheaper.
Justine: Ok, so I bought the Glenleven 12 as I’d recently purchased a bottle of Haig Golden Age, also bottled in Markinch before their move to Leven in the early 80s. I had never tried the Glenleven 12 before but liked the Golden Age so figured it’d be worth a shot. To be honest, I was a little disappointed with it. The Golden Age had a certain harshness to it that actually wasn’t unpleasant; the Glenleven 12 seemed a bit feeble in comparison.
Colour: a light tan
On the nose: earthy; smoke; rubber; raisins; stewed apples; underlying malty character of some of the components comes through.
In the mouth: smoke; rubbery; tinned oranges; dark chocolate; relatively long finish.
MacPhail’s 15 year old Single Malt for Keelings review
Bottled in the mid-1980’s for Irish food distributor Keelings, this release from Gordon & MacPhail would be comprised of stock from their inventory and is one of several company bottlings that were produced under the MacPhail’s label. A bargain for Jason at £28 who was delighted when the auction closed! The audience agreed and awarded this a remarkable 57, making it by far the most popular choice of the evening.
Justine: the Macphails was definitely the worthy winner. I didn’t make notes but remember it just seemed to be quite a full, robust dram.
Colour: brass rubbing
On the nose: very fruity with overly ripe pears poached with vanilla, raisins, honeycomb and then cinder toffee. A waft of rolled tobacco mixes well with the malty vibe and sweet cinnamon and a touch of nutmeg.
In the mouth: a delicate sherry vibe underpins the palate and a timid arrival that grows in poise with a robust body moving into chocolate, jumbo oats, beeswax, a vanilla caramel and more of those delicate spices with nutmeg and cinnamon. On the finish a gentle roasted coffee bean flourish.
Glen Scotia 14 year old review
We’re off to Campbeltown for Justine’s final selection and its a single malt. Coming at £49.99 this was slightly overpriced but went down well with attendees who scored it 48.
Justine: As for the Glen Scotia 14 years, I’m a huge fan of this distillery and its whisky but only really discovered it for myself within the last few years. So I’d never tasted any earlier bottlings from before the brightly coloured Highland cow packaging. So essentially I just bought whisky that I thought I’d like and hoped others would like too! Guessing that strategy didn’t work…
Colour: more of that caramel
On the nose: red apple; tinned clementines; slight fustiness; turns into chocolate orange; hints of pencil sharpenings; old books; wax.
In the mouth: oak spice; ginger; dark chocolate; slightly bitter into the finish; a slightly meaty / ham aftertaste.
Cadenhead’s Balmenach-Glenlivet 13 year old review
Jason’s big purchase at £66 and this Balmenach was distilled in April 1981, before being bottled in June 1994 at an impressive 62.9% strength. The reason for this purchase was a rather excellent Balmenach experienced during the 2017 Glasgow Rare & Old Show. Likely to be from the same batch of casks (independents buy in bulk rather than the odd cask), although slightly younger, Jason knew the quality of the whisky and Balmenach is relatively overlooked at auction. This also gave attendees the experience of this vibrant Cadenhead range and a single malt produced with a Saladin box on site.
Justine: Of the three, the Balmenach was probably my least favourite on the night. However, it was the last one in the line up so it’s always difficult to fully appreciate your 6th dram, especially when you have the added distraction of licensing regulations when you are approaching 10pm and last pour o’clock! On its own, on another occasion, with more time, I think I would judge it differently.
The Balmenach matched the Glen Scotia with a score of 48.
Colour: apple peel
On the nose: malty and pugent initially, peppermint tea, a floral aspect followed by icing sugar, white pepper and wine gums. Water – and it can take a fair amount – brings out apples, lemon and basil.
In the mouth: a kick from the alcohol is present and certainly resides into the chalky vanilla finish. Green apples and an element of under ripe mangos. Water brings this beast under control and adds more weight to the texture – it actually transforms this malt into an oozing orchard fruit bomb – yes not hugely detailed, but fun nevertheless. Some almonds and nuttiness with the addition on water on the palate. A very interesting whisky with plenty of fun to be had with the addition of water.
A fun evening that flew past in reality with plenty of debate and whisky discoveries. Chances are there will be a cage grudge match in 2018, once Justine has delivered the Fife Whisky Festival and has built up enough courage to face the Artist formerly known as Whisky Rover once again. And she has with Friday 16th March pencilled in for the grudge match.